EPISTEMOLOGYEpistemology has to do with the general theory of knowledge (and how we acquire knowledge.) Under modernity, it was assumed that “knowledge was certain and that the criterion for that certainty rests with our human rational capabilities.” Thus, it was thought that in order to ascertain certain knowledge of “absolute truth”, one must detach oneself and approach the subject as an objective observer. After obtaining this position of detached neutrality, one must reduce the subject to rational propositions that, taken together are logically irrefutable. The attraction of such a system is obvious. If human beings can strip off our subjectivity and simply gain knowledge of objective and absolute truth, then it seems only reasonable that this enlightenment would naturally lead human beings to peace and harmony. This is the great story, the meta-narrative (if you will) into which modernity placed its faith: Progress. Human beings are freeing themselves from all of that superstitious nonsense and subjectivity, and are finally becoming “enlightened”. As they do, the world will just get better and better. After all, knowledge is inherently good, right? As it turns out, these assumptions, reasonable and logical though they may be, are not necessarily true. N.T. Wright explains:
“The myth of progress and enlightenment created the context not only for Charles Darwin, but for that which followed in his wake, namely a “Social Darwinism” that made talk of eugenics, of racial purity, of selective breeding, and ultimately of ‘final solutions’ acceptable, even apparently desirable, not just in Germany, but in Britain and America as well.”
For all of its “propositional truth”, modernity still oriented itself around a narrative of progress. This narrative was forceful, dominating and coercive, virtually demanding that everyone get on board or get out of the way. Anyone who didn’t see the obvious truth of the narrative was deemed either stupid, naive or crazy.
(To be continued)